SBJ/March 7-13, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

CME goes from pro-am participant to title sponsor at LPGA tournament

For the last three years, the CME Group has concluded its global financial leadership conference in Florida with a golf pro-am involving 20 LPGA pros.

Terry Duffy, executive chairman at CME, said the event has been so successful with his customers that CME has decided to deepen its relationship with the LPGA by title-sponsoring the year-end event at the Titleholders.

CME Group, founded in 1898 and based in Chicago, operates multiple futures exchanges and offers risk-management financial products based on interest rates, agriculture, metal, real estate and many other options. Its customers range from banks to hedge funds, mutual funds and individuals who trade on one of CME’s exchanges.

The CME Group Titleholders, played in mid-November in Orlando, is a new event on the 2011 schedule that includes a reduced field of 72 of the best-performing golfers who qualify. The tournament replaces the Tour Championship, which previously had been the season-ender.

The top three golfers qualify each week and if one of the top three already is in, the spot goes to the next golfer who hasn’t already qualified. This presents the opportunity for media and broadcasters to reference the CME Group Titleholders each week leading up to the season finale, and it gives CME the chance to create a seasonlong marketing platform on the LPGA’s broadcast partner, Golf Channel.

In addition to the exclusive nature of the tournament, the LPGA will use the year-ender as a way to recognize each title sponsor, hence the name Titleholders. At that event, every tournament’s trophy will be on display on the 18th hole and title sponsors will be encouraged to attend the tournament to root for the winner of their event as a way to create a unique atmosphere.

Financial terms of the deal were not available, but title sponsorships on the LPGA Tour can run from the low to mid-seven figures. CME has signed a three-year agreement.

“Each title sponsor is uniquely important to us, but given that this tournament comes with a seasonlong aspect to it, it’s among our most important relationships,” said Jon Podany, the LPGA’s chief marketer. “It’s a great sign for the LPGA that CME came in a few years ago, ran a pro-am event, partnered with us on the Solheim Cup in 2009 and then stepped up to this event.”

CME, which negotiated the agreement in-house, is a global exchange with huge reach and deep pockets that has come to appreciate the hospitality and golf experiences with the LPGA pros, Podany added. Their sponsorship comes with a heavy ad spend on Golf Channel, which will mark CME’s first real branding efforts.

“The feedback we’ve gotten from our customers and clients on the pro-am has been amazing,” Duffy said. “The LPGA has proven to be a good fit because of the way the players interact with our customers in a relaxed environment. They’re not intimidating, they’re not standoffish and many of the golfers are still e-mailing back and forth with our clients. All of the positive feedback resonated loud and clear back to us.”

Closing the deal with CME Group on one of its signature events takes away the sting of losing State Farm last week from the LPGA’s tournament in Springfield, Ill. The loss of the title sponsor could endanger the 35-year-old event at a time when the LPGA is trying to expand its domestic tournament schedule.

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